November 4 2018: artful dodger

Broad brush as always, the blog a couple of days ago recalled a Royal Academy painting called Bedlington Terrier in Red – “a bit ower our heeds,” Dave Perry, Terriers’ chairman back in 1998-99, had said.

So art appears for many football folk, former Nedwcastle and Hartlepool centre half John Bird among the exceptions.

Signed by the Magpies from Preston in 1975 – a deal which caused Preston manager Bobby Charlton to resign in protest – Bird soon afterwards opened a gallery in the city. Chiefly it sold those then-familiar Athena prints.

Now 70, he still runs a rather more up-market gallery at Bawtry, near Doncaster, and sells his own work all over the world.

Impossible to talk of Athena, however, without recalling an encounter between celebrity safebreaker George Reynolds and Mackenzie Thorpe, a Middlesbrough-born artist and football enthusiast who’d initially made his name by painting “square sheep.”

George, an old friend, was overseeing completion of the impressive Reynolds Arena in Darlington. Particularly he seemed proud of two things: the escalator and the Italianate fittings in the loos.

Thorpe, whom I knew much less well, expressed fascination for both George and his stadium. I offered to arrange a tour, the pay-off that Mackenzie would give one of his football prints – said to be worth £500 – to the winners of the 2003 Northern League Cup final, the last competitive match on the Quakers’ much-loved Feethams ground. The “prize” still hangs in Shildon’s clubhouse.

The visit began by ascending the escalator and went down very quickly thereafter. Like the London Underground – or, indeed, the Tyne and Wear Metro – the walls were hung with frames. On the Tube it was underwear adverts, at the Reynolds Arena it was Athena prints.

Geoirge indicated the most familiar, the one of the black haired lass with the suggestive cleavage. “Now that’s what I call art, Mackenzie,” he said.

“That’s what I call s***e”, said his guest. The tour was swiftly truncated; he never did get to see the netties.

 

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